The DOJ sent back 33 pages of white space and scattered hyphens: a complete redaction.

These bureaucrats must waste a lot of time crossing out transcripts because they responded similarly to the ACLU one week later. The organization requested classified FBI memos outlining exactly when the bureau’s agents”€”a notoriously deceitful bunch”€”are allowed to track US citizens via GPS technology. This issue dictated national headlines throughout last year’s United States v. Jones case in the Supreme Court. The FBI had attached a 24-hour GPS tracker to a nightclub owner’s vehicle after suspecting him of selling cocaine, and the memos in question constitute the DOJ’s official (and verbatim) interpretation of the Jones opinion, including how the department intended to continue day-to-day operations afterward.

One afternoon the ACLU opened its mailbox and found an answer: 100 pages of white paper seemingly dipped in black ink. No pen strikethroughs, no scattered hyphens, just blacked-out rectangles and an eerie reflection of stars in the night sky.

An empty package would have been more helpful. FOIA requests are called “€œrequests”€ for a reason. When the bureaucrats from whom you”€™re requesting secret documents have absolute power in deciding what they do and don”€™t send, especially when their jobs may depend on you not having the information, what do you expect to happen? Ignoring their occasional cooperation to save face”€”and the potential for abuse by other nosy miscreants”€”the feds serve as judge, jury, and executioner. It isn”€™t the end of the world, though. The DOJ’s fierce black pen probably says more about the organization than any unredacted memo ever will.

In that sense, FOIA requests serve an important purpose, but not the one they”€™re intended to serve.

Luckily we can still count on some private companies to fight the good fight. Honorable businessmen, when contacted by Uncle Sam for help with spying on their customers, will tell their customers about the solicitation. Google and Twitter have been models for this type of rebellious nobility, going so far as to tell the whole world when they”€™re tapped in the shadows (even when they”€™ve complied).

Google, which published its biannual Transparency Report on January 23, noted that government requests for user data have increased by more than 70 percent since 2009, an average of about 119 requests per day in the latter half of 2012. Twitter released its own report the following Monday, tallying the daily receipt of about five information requests and 18 copyright notices throughout 2012.

Obama accepted one of his first anti-secrecy awards during a “€œclosed, undisclosed meeting.”€ Had there been an audience, he would have been laughed off the stage.

 



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